How do you get past the stuff other people have done to turn your life upside down? Here’s how to release the past.
- How often do you think about the past? Do you tend to focus on the highlights or the difficult parts?
- Do you know someone who seems to have made peace with a difficult past? What’s different about them?
- Have you ever given someone influence in your life by holding a grudge against them (even if it was warranted)? Explain.
- Have you ever thought that your past mistakes disqualified you from a relationship with God? Does the idea of a forgiving God surprise you?
- Andy mentioned that forgiveness isn’t necessary because your offender deserves it but because you deserve it. Is there someone you need to forgive? In what ways might your life improve if you were to forgive them?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
Hey, we’re finishing up this series Starting Over, and if you haven’t been with us, it’s a pretty simple series and there’s been four parts. And the subtitle kinda gives away the punchline of the whole series and it’s basically this, “We wanna ensure that next time won’t be like last time. How Do We Ensure That Next Time Won’t Be Like Last Time?” And what we mean by that is that if you’re in a stage of life where you’re starting over academically, professionally, a new marriage, a new relationship, a new neighborhood, a new city, you’ve wrapped up something that it didn’t end as well as you thought it should, it didn’t end the way you wanted it to. In fact, you hope nobody finds out about it, or it may have had nothing to do with anything that you did, but you find yourself having to start over, this is the series for you.
And we said in order to start over in such a way that next time is better than last time, you gotta own it, rethink it and release it.
So, today we come to this third part of starting over and that is: Release it, release it, release it. Now, here’s what I mean by release it. In week two I showed you this pie chart, and I said, “This is the circle of blame,” you remember that? The circle of blame is here’s all the blame that explains why your marriage failed, why the business failed, why you’re in so much debt, why school didn’t go the way you wanted it to, why she broke up, here’s all the blame. And we said, essentially there’s part of it that we’re to blame and then there’s part of it where other people are to blame.
And so, in week two, we talked about your fault. And we said when it comes to owning our part of the equation, our part’s usually never any larger than that, right? ‘Cause this is the story we like to tell, “She was such a liar. They told me when I went to work there, but it didn’t work out. That teacher, nobody can get along with that teacher. He said… ” This is the story we love to tell, but we said, “Come on, come on, every failure, every junction, every transition, in life, where things didn’t go well, there’s something we have to own. There’s part of it that we have to blame.” So, week two, we talked about discovering what this is. This week, I wanna talk about the rest of this pie. So, when we talk about owning it, that’s the part that you’re responsible for, when we talk about letting go, we talk about moving forward in this third part of the list, or third thing on the list, we’re talking about this element right here.
Now, let me boil it down to one simple thought and then we’re gonna tease this out a little bit, here’s the thing. Just like, this is huge, just like not owning, just like not owning your part of the pie enables you to smuggle your issues into your future, okay. Just like not owning this allows you to smuggle your bad habits, your addictions, your issues into your future. Not dealing with this enables the person who hurt you to smuggle their issues into your future. All right? So if you don’t deal with what you did, you smuggle your bad habits and your issues into your future, but if you don’t deal with this the right way, you actually allow the people who hurt you, deceived you, lied to you, fired you unnecessarily, you allow them to actually influence your future.
Now, I’m not gonna have you raise your hands because that would be stupid, but who wants to do that? Who wants to allow the people that have hurt them the most to continue to have influence in their future? And for some of you, this is why your second marriage is looking a lot like your first marriage. And your first husband said, “You’re just like your mom,” okay, so you got rid of him. And then lo and behold, your second husband said, “You’re just like your mom,” and you’re like, “What’s with these people?” Or, “What’s the common denominator?” That’d be you, ’cause you keep following yourself around, you show up in every relationship. You show up in every financial transaction, okay? This is gonna be a lot of fun today, isn’t it, already?
So, here’s the thing. Here’s the thing. I know you and I’m the same way. None of us want the people who create chaos in our lives, either in childhood or that last job, or that last neighborhood, or that last team, or that last school, whatever it was. None of us wanna allow the people that created stuff in us to have influence in our future.
So, I’m gonna ask you two really insensitive questions I used to ask people all the time and they never had a good answer for, and they looked at me like, “What stupid questions?” So I thought I would just try ’em out one last time, because I think these are important questions, as it relates to moving on to ensure next time is better than last time.
The first question is this: How far into your future do you intend to carry the angst created in your past? How far into your future do you intend, and again, we say, “We never intend.” I know but if you don’t do something about it, it’s like you’re intending. How far into your future do you intend to carry the angst created in your past? And you go, “Well, I don’t intend to carry any of it into the future.” Well then you have to do something.
Here’s second bad question, ’cause I can tell you didn’t like the first one, so let me say it a different way: How long do you plan to allow the people who mistreated you to influence you? How long? Another week? Another month? Another marriage? Another season? Your whole career? You say, “Well, I don’t really plan any of it.” I know. That’s why this is an important question. We don’t plan it, we just live, and we just have bad attitude, and we have all these fears and anxieties. And we don’t trust people, and we’re angry, and we have a short fuse, and people know what our issues are. “Don’t bring that up and stay away from that, ’cause she’s… You kinda walk on eggshells around him or her.” And again, we’ve allowed the people who’ve hurt us the most to kind of follow us into our future. They’ve smuggled their way in. They’ve camouflaged themselves in terms of just the story we love to tell, but they continue to drive our emotions.
So this is a good question: How long do you plan to allow the people who mistreated you to influence you? Yeah, and it’s real quiet, ’cause it’s either a bad question or you don’t wanna think about it. So, let me ask you an easier question: have you ever met somebody and they’re kind of then sort of have a wrinkle-free life? Everything’s not perfect, but it’s like, “Wow!” They’ve got their act together. They’ve got their marriage together. Their kids are… They’re not like all going to Ivy League schools, but they’re great kids and they’re responsible. And when you’re at their home, you feel like, “That couple, that individual, that guy or that girl, they’ve kind of got their act together.” Have you ever met anybody like that?
And then you hear their story, and they have some big, gargantuan, ugly monster of a thing in their past and you’re like, “Huhhh!” And you think to yourself, “I would have never guessed. I would have never guessed, if you, you would never guess she has that in her past. You would never guess he has that in his past. You would never guess she was raised in a home like that. You would never guess.” When you meet them now, it’s like there is no trace of that in their lives.
You ever meet people like that? And you’re like, “Wow!” Now, when I meet people like that, I, because of what I do, I always ask them this question, always. I always say, “Hey, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, how did you do that? How did you get from ‘Oh my gosh!’ to ‘I’d like to be like you when I grow up’? How did you get to, Oh my God, how are you even standing? You should be in rehab forever to overcome that! I always hear one word, there’s always one word in every response to that question.
And here’s what I always hear, and in fact, if this is your story, this is how you would say it in some capacity. I always hear the word “decided”. The answer is they decided, 100%. “How in the world did you grow up in that and end up like this? How in the world did you go through a season of that professionally and now, you just… I don’t sense any bitterness, I don’t sense any anger, there’s not an edge, you just, you seem to have peace. How did you get there?” And 100% of the time it’s because they decided. They decided. They made up their mind, they decided. These are my words, not theirs.
Essentially, they decided that their past would remind them, but it would not define them. They decided somewhere along the way, “As bad as that was and as shaping as that was and as tempting as it might be to tell that story, my whole life and allow it to shape me and define me,” somehow they found the courage or the power or the insight to decide to make up their minds, The past may remind me, but it will not define me.” They made up their minds, they decided.
In fact I have a really dear friend, her past, it’s just, it’s a long… It’s one of those stories, I hear these ’cause I’m a pastor. Sometimes you hear a story and you think, “Okay, you get a pass. You do not have to forgive, you should just stay mad. Okay? You get a pass, everybody else needs to forgive, not you. If there’s anybody that would do that to you, you deserve to be crazy, you deserve to have a bad attitude, in fact here’s some Braves tickets. You deserve it. I mean, what you’ve been through.”
Well, her story is kinda one of those stories. So about a month ago, I knew I was gonna talk on this subject and I’ve known her a long time. So it was a little insensitive of me, but I said, “Hey, can I ask you a personal question? Because I just want your first thing that comes to mind when I ask you this question.” So I asked her. I said, \”How did you get from there to here? How did you get from all of that, that would just put most people away, how did you get from that to this point? Now, when people meet you they would never guess, they would never guess that that’s a part of your past?”
I’m gonna tell you what she said. When she said it, I got my phone out and tried to write it down word for word, because this is exactly what came out of her mouth, unprepared, no coaching from me, here’s what she said, “I decided. I decided there was enough pain in life. I wasn’t gonna drag that along with me the rest of my life. It wasn’t worth it. I decided there’s gonna be enough new pain, there’s gonna be enough new drama, enough new dysfunction. Why in the world would I wanna drag that around with me the rest of my life? I decided it wasn’t worth it.” And through a process, she put it away and it has informed her decisions, but it does not control her future.
So to ensure that next time, to ensure that next time is better and it won’t be like last time, you gotta release the past so the past can release you. You have to. If you wanna make sure you don’t drag not just lessons from the past, but the emotions of the past, the anger of the past, the thing that kinda keeps you off-balance into your future, you’ve got to find a way to let go of the past, release the past so your past will inform your decisions, but it will not control your life.
Now I know that you want that, I know you want that. But it’s critical that you find a way to do this.
Now, the religious term for how you get there… This isn’t gonna be a surprise and this isn’t brand new information. The way that you get there ultimately is you forgive. You forgive.
Here’s the thing about forgiveness. Forgiveness is so powerful. This is huge. Forgiveness allows us to leverage the lessons of the past without lugging around the luggage from the past. Forgiveness is what allows you to learn the lessons from the past without lugging around all the luggage, all the baggage, all the inappropriate emotion of the past.
Now here’s a really cool thing. In the New Testament, there’s a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to some Christians in Ephesus and we call it the Book of Ephesians. Paul hated Christians then he became one, and then he started little churches around parts of what we would call Europe and Turkey and around the Mediterranean Rim. And then he would write these churches letters and his insights are extraordinary. And he has an insight into forgiveness that is so astounding and when you think about the fact that this was written 2000 years ago, it’s one of the reasons I think these texts are inspired because of the kinds of insights that he brings us today from this text.
So here’s what he says about this whole issue of forgiveness, this whole issue of making sure your past doesn’t chase you around, this whole issue of how to ensure that next time will be better than last time. Here’s what he writes, Ephesians 4:26, he says this: “In your anger, do not sin.” And in the Greek text, in fact if you grew up in church, you may have heard this verse stated a different way. It’s actually two imperatives, he says, “Be angry, and do not sin.” “Be angry, and do not sin.” Which means many of you are actually applying the Bible, and you didn’t know it.
‘Cause you’d be angry. If you be angry, that’s what the Bible says, “Be angry. Be angry, and do not sin.” Which is cool because Paul admits that there is an appropriate place for anger. but there’s a way to be angry, and not to sin, at which point, we go, “What in the world are you talking about?” And then he makes this statement. He says, “Do not.” And the reason I highlighted “Do not”, it means there’s a decision you have to make.
“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Paul’s point is this. And here’s a great question, goes back to my bad question. How many sunsets? Because you have a decision to make. There is some deciding to do. You can engage in this process in such a way that your anger, your emotions, your angst doesn’t have to control and impact your future. So he says, “Don’t let the sun go down while you’re still angry.” That is, do something about your anger And do not give or grant or do not gift the devil a foothold.” And I’m gonna come back to the devil in just a second, I wanna talk about this word, “foothold”. This little word, “foothold”, actually, figuratively means an opportunity, but literally it means a “staging ground”. He says, “Don’t let the devil move into your life and set up shop.” Don’t give him an office, don’t give him a staging ground, don’t give him an arena, don’t give him a place, don’t give him space. Because if you don’t deal with your anger, if you don’t deal with those emotions, if you don’t deal with the junk that keeps floatin’ around your life because of what was done to you in the past, that 85%, 95%, that’s kinda’ your good story that you like to tell, and everybody feels like your justified in it.
He said, “If you don’t do something about that, or when you don’t do something about that, you give the devil an opportunity to set up shop, a staging ground, an opportunity where he will continue to reach into your future, because of something that happened in your past.”
Now, here’s the really interesting thing about this word. In the Greek text, there’s a word translated “Satan”, we all know who Satan is and that’s not a surprise. Paul doesn’t use that word here. He actually uses a word, a common Greek word that means slanderer, or liar, or deceiver. And in fact, in some English texts, the word “devil” doesn’t appear. It just says, liar, slanderer. The best way to understand what Paul is saying, is not to think in terms of devil. The best way to understand what Paul is saying, and this is where it gets real personal, is to take out the word “devil”, and to put in the name of the person or persons who have hurt you.
Now let’s read it again. “In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you’re still angry. And do not give ‘Frank’, do not give such and such, ‘inc’, do not give Professor so and so, do not give Dr. So and so, do not give for ex-husband, ex-wife, mom and dad, a foothold in your life”.
Whew! So let me ask you another dumb question. Do you really want to give the person who hurt you the most, staging ground in your life to continue to impact your future? Of course not! Paul was so insightful 2000 years ago to know this, “If you don’t deal with your anger, it doesn’t matter what kind of future you hope you have. If you don’t deal with your angst because of the past, it doesn’t matter what your plans and your hopes and your dreams are. You are giving the people who have hurt you, betrayed you, deceived you”, whatever your verb is, “You have given them a place; a permanent place in your life and a permanent place in your future.” That’s why he says, “Don’t let the sun go down. Do something about it as quick as possible. Do something about it now. Don’t think it’s just gonna go away. You have a decision to make.”
It’s why every single person that surprises me or will surprise you with their story when you ask them, “How did you get from there to here?” You will hear, at some point, you will hear them say, “I decided. I decided. My past might inform me, but it does not conform me. It might inform me, but it does not control me. It might help me make better decisions in the future, but it does not dictate my future.”
So there’s a place for anger, but we have to learn to keep anger in its place. Now, he goes on a few verses later and he brings us to our word. He says this, “Get rid of” there it is again. We have a responsibility. We can do something about this. You’re not a victim. You don’t have to spend the rest of your life telling your sad story and being a sad person. He says, “Get rid of all bitterness.” Now think about that. You have the power, you have the ability, there’s something you can do according to Paul, to get rid of bitterness.
You say, “No, the only way to get rid of the bitterness is for the person that caused the bitterness to come to me and apologize.” Well that doesn’t get rid of your bitterness. That just gives you an opportunity to say, “I forgive you or I don’t forgive you,” but that doesn’t mean you won’t be bitter. This is “you” issue. This is your issue. If you’re bitter you have something to do. If you’re bitter there’s work to do.
He says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger. All bitterness, anger and slander along with every form of malice.” Then he says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another.” And there’s our word, forgiving one another, and the word forgiveness, or the word forgive, to put it in a context that maybe brings a little bit more emotion and a little bit more focus. The word forgiveness in this context really just means to pardon.
Do you know what a pardon is? A pardon is when a judge looks at somebody and says, “You are absolutely guilty of what you’re accused of, but you don’t have to pay for it. You are absolutely guilty. You did it. Your attorney didn’t talk us all into thinking you didn’t do it. You did it. You are guilty. We, as the court, have decided not to hold you accountable for what you did. You are pardoned. You are forgiven.”
Now let me just tell you, and I bet you’ve heard this before. Maybe you’re here today just for this one idea. The only way to break the chain between what has been done to you and your future, the only way, the only way is to pardon, and I know if I heard your story I would agree with you they don’t deserve it.
But listen to me. God thinks you deserve it. God, who loves you, thinks your future family and your future relationships deserve it. The people who love you and care about you think you deserve it, and the best thing you can do for you, not the person who hurt you, the best thing you can do for you, is to decide, decide, decide, “I pardon you. I don’t hold you accountable. You are free to go. You’re not following me into my future.”
Now if you’re not a Christian this is optional. You get decide how much of this you like or don’t like, but if we’re Christians we are so on the hook because the next thing Paul says is this, “Just as Christ, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” In other words he says, “I know what they did was horrible. I know what they did kind of wrecked your childhood. I know what they did wrecked your credit rating. I know what they did. There’s just some things you’re not gonna get to experience because of what they’ve done. I know it’s bad. But just remember this, all of this happened under the canopy of your Heavenly Father looking you in the eye at some point in your life and saying, “You know what? I am not gonna hold you accountable for what you did in terms of my relationship with you. You are pardoned. You are forgiven.”
And Paul says, “The thing that should motivate those of us who are Christians to at least consider, to at least step up to the line, to at least contemplate the reality of forgiving the people who’ve hurt us the most, it’s not simply because they deserve it, they probably don’t, but because God in Christ made that very same decision for you.
This is amazing. God does not factor your sin into His relationship with you. God does not factor your sin into His relationship with you. He freed himself of the burden of looking at you through the filter of your sin by choosing to pardon you. Another way of saying it is this: Your future relationship with God isn’t shadowed by your past sin. He disconnected your past sin from His future relationship with you, and now Paul says, “We have the same opportunity if we choose to take it.” We can decide to decouple what has been done to us from our future through the very same exercise of forgiveness.
Now sometimes, when I talk about this and there’s a Q and A, or we can have a conversation, or one-on-one, people say, “Okay, well what if somebody broke the law?” So let me just say something real quick about that. If someone broke the law, you should call the police. If someone broke the law, they should be prosecuted, but even then, this is huge, even then, now they have to go before two courts, yours and the government’s, and the government may lock them up, but you still have the opportunity to personally pardon them and your best bet for moving forward is to choose, “You don’t owe me.” Because pardon uncouples their impact on your future.
So here’s what Paul says, he says, “Look, you wanna go forward? You wanna leave? You wanna learn some lessons from the past? But you don’t want the past following you everywhere, impacting every future relationship, every future financial dealing, every attitude, and every emotion that you experience?” He says, “Then pardon as you been pardoned.” And here is what I would add to what Paul said, “And you go first, so you can go on.” The reason I say that, is sometimes people say, “Well, if they will ever come to me apologize,” you don’t have to wait for that. They are never going to apologize. And they’re never gonna apologize fully.
So, pardon as you been pardoned. Go first, so you can go on. And here is my super specific application that I would highly recommend, if you think this is an issue for your life, make a list, make a list of what they owe you. Now this is one of the most powerful things you can do. And this is one of the reasons some of you are thinking right now, “Andy, I already did that. I already forgave him. I got on my knees, I sat down on my chair and I pulled out my Bible, and I just found a verse and then I said, ‘God, I forgive him.’ And there is no difference. I haven’t changed and nothing’s changed.” And here is why. Because you had forgave them generally, you need to forgive them specifically.
Here’s one of the most powerful exercises you can go through. This means it’s gonna take more than just before the sunsets today. You need to fully engage and fully embrace exactly what they owe you. Because a pardon is deciding someone doesn’t owe you, for what they have done to you. And in order for the pardon to be complete, you need to list the crimes. You need to get a list. And you need to say, “What did they take from me?” They took my childhood. They may have taken you opportunity to raise your daughter. They took away you opportunity to put your son to bed every night. They took away your reputation. They took away your career. What exactly did they lie about? How specifically have they hurt you?
Here’s what you will discover: When you start your list, it will be longer that you ever imagined. And as you make your list, some of the energy is gonna come out of your story. And as you make your list, it’s gonna become clearer, and clearer, and clearer, just what a really big deal this is. Because when you tell your story, you talk a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and he said, and she said, but when you finally make a list, here is all that they took from me, here is all that they owe me, something powerful may happen inside of you.
And once you’ve decided what they owe you, that’s when you hold that up. Not to them. They don’t have to be a part of this. And you decide, “You don’t owe me anymore.” And you know what else you gonna discover? Most of what they took from you, they can’t pay you back anyway. Let me ask you this way. How ridiculous, come on, how ridiculous, I don’t mean something wrong with you, but we all get confused with this. How ridiculous to spend your whole life waiting to be paid back something that can’t ever be paid back? Your wacky dad can’t give you your teenage years back. Your mom can’t put you to bed every night. Your son can’t undo the damage that he did. Your daughter can’t undo… Even if your boss came back and apologized, they can’t restore what was taken. So here is the strange thing, why hold over someone’s head a debt they couldn’t repay even if they wanted to?
You have the potential to become one of those people that when people finally do the round and hear your story, they will be amazed. They will say, “You just don’t seem like one of those people that experienced that kind of pain and that kind of rejection, that kind of abandonment.” And they will say, “How did you do it?” And you will say, “I decided.”
One warning, from week two, this is very important. Back to our chart. Until you own this, you will have a very difficult time pardoning this. Let me explain why. Because this, for most of us is very, very difficult to admit and one of the reasons it’s so difficult to admit is because there’s so much of this. They did so much. Why in the world would you even spend 30 seconds of your time talking about this? You had such little to do with what happened. Why in the world talk about it? Why in the world admit it? And for some of you, if I can be kind of personal, for some of you, this is so painful to admit that you will spend, if you are not careful, you will spend the rest of your life hiding it in the fog of all this.
Your story is so compelling, that you’ll never be forced to deal with this. But I’m telling you, until you own this, that’s why I started with this, rather than this. Until you own this, you’re gonna have a very, very difficult time releasing and pardoning this. I’m talking about anything that’s happened to you from the time you were 18 years old, and older. You’ve gotta own it before you can forgive it. But the good news is this: If you do this, your past will remind you, but it will not define you. You can move on. Release the past and so the past can release you.